Friday, April 3rd, 2009
A Few Unoriginal Observations about Mister Rogers
Won’t You Be My Neighbor Day came and went two weeks ago. Maybe you saw it commemorated on blogs; I haven’t been reading many as of late. And I don’t own a sweater.
I’m writing today because I came across a video clip of Fred Rogers and got sucked into his neighborhood. I watched his show as a child of course, but my daughter doesn’t watch television yet. I’d probably own the entire 32-year DVD collection and be slowly going through them on our Saturday “movie” night, but curiously very few shows are available on DVD. (I’m sure we’d finish before I die of old age.) Most of the episodes strike me as timeless, at least to a child’s eyes.
Anyhow, the video that sucked me in is the last in this article. But first, here’s a brief clip lifted from a 1988 documentary about the history of television that ran on PBS. I wish his entire speech was available.
Next, here is the full speech Fred Rogers gave before the US Senate on May 1, 1969 defending public television where $20 million was at stake, and he discretely attacks the garbage shoveled on kids in mainstream TV. I also couldn’t help noting that Mr. Rogers speaks as slow and methodically as he does on his children’s show. It’s a very disarming approach to communication.
A choice quote:
“We deal with such things as the inner drama of childhood. We don’t have to bop somebody over the head to make drama on the screen. We deal with such things as getting a haircut. Or the feelings about brothers and sisters and the kind of anger that arises in simple family situations. And we speak to it constructively.
This is what I give. I give an expression of care everyday to each child to help him realize that he is unique. I end this program by saying ‘You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you and I like you just the way you are.’ And I feel that if we in public television can only make it clear that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health.
I think that it’s much more dramatic that two men could be working out their feelings of anger, much more dramatic than showing something of gunfire. I’m constantly concerned about what our children are seeing. And for 15 years I have tried in this country and Canada to provide what I feel is a meaningful expression of care.”
Next, a clip from his show where he visits The Flying Karamazov Brothers.
Notice two things about the above clip. They don’t relate to the messages he conveyed every day, but how he conveyed them.
First, Mr. Rogers tells his stories in a slow, methodical way. Any other TV show would stuff this segment with an onslaught of fast music and quickly changing video clips. He apparently once referred to his way as “deep and simple.”
Second, he has long interview segments that contain very few hard video cuts. You feel like you’re really there experiencing his visit rather than watching an hour of footage that was chopped down into six minutes.
Oh, okay, and third, Mr. Rogers isn’t afraid to show us his difficulty in learning to juggle. It’s okay to make mistakes.
Next a trailer for an upcoming documentary, Mister Rogers & Me by someone who grew up as Mister Rogers’ real neighbor.
And here’s an article, Mister Rogers & Me, where the documentarian (and MTV executive) recounts some memories of growing up with Mister Rogers. A quote:
“Outside, Mister Rogers and I stood on the back porch in the Indian summer sun staring out at the water. He asked me about my job at MTV. He said he was concerned about modern pop culture. ‘There is no shortage of things that are shallow and complex,’ he said. ‘We need more television, more movies, more art that is deep and simple.’
Deep and simple.
The phrase stuck with me. It’s what he stood for, who he was. ‘Mister Roger’s Neighborhood,’ like Mister Roger’s himself, was pure, unadulterated goodness unfettered by extra language, bright colors, or complicated drama. He spoke straight, told the truth, and didn’t worry about being cool or contemporary. He just was. Deep and simple.”
And last, Mr. Rogers says goodbye. He died in 2003.
- Save Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Does your PBS station still air the show?
- Fred Rogers interview part 1 with the Archive of American Television. Deep and simple, and very long. [part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8 and part 9]
- Family Communications — the nonprofit Mr. Rogers founded as his production company. Very few of the shows are available on DVD, but thankfully there’s very little merchandising too.
- Book: The World According to Mister Rogers: Important Things to Remember
- CD: Songs from the Neighborhood
- DVD: Adventures in Friendship and What Do You Do with the Mad That You Feel?
- DVD: A Day at the Circus
- DVD: Going to School